1942 Harley-Davidson WLA

Two versions of the 1942 Harley-Davidson® were manufactured for military use during World War II, the WLA and the XA. Although both were designed for battle, only the WLA saw action during World War II.


Engine: 45 cubic inch V-Twin
Transmission: 3 FWD
Power Transfer Chain Drive
Fuel Capacity: 3.375 Gallons
Cruising Range: 120 Miles
Max. Speed: 65 mph
Brakes: Drum actuated by cable/lever
Number Manufactured: 70,000 +
Fording Depth: 16: inches
Net Weight: 562 pounds
Status: Working - Static Display
Ownership: On Loan from John Russell
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Harley-Davidson® joined the war effort and rolled over Europe with the powerful WLA motorcycle. Fast and durable, this solid motorcycle carried Allied soldiers on countless campaigns. Even before the United States entered World War II, Harley-Davidson® was building motorcycles to be used by the Allies in the war effort, particularly after Germany had crippled the British motorcycle industry. However, almost immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. subsequent entry into the war, Harley-Davidson® was dedicated to the war effort, producing motorcycles for scouting and dispatch for both the U.S. and Allied forces.

During this time, Harley-Davidson® developed its WLA military motorcycles (the "A" stands for Army) and by the end of the war, more than 77,000 WLAs had been produced and shipped, with one third sold to England and Russia under the "Lend-Lease Act". In addition, the company produced enough spare parts to build an additional 30,000 motorcycles.

Production of the WLA, along with other military orders, kept the Harley-Davidson® factory busy day and night and ultimately earned the company the Army-Navy "E" Award for excellence in wartime production. The WLA Military Motorcycle featured a 45 cubic inch V-twin engine that was based on the Harley-Davidson ® 45 cubic inch flathead engine. (There was another unique, horizontally opposed, twin 45 cubic inch engine developed, the XA, to be used in desert warfare, but only 1,000 models were produced when that aspect of the war was ended.)

A Navy version (Model U) for the Shore Patrol and an expermental XS with side-car were also produced, but in limited numbers. The WLA, however, was stronger than the civilian model - and certainly as equally reliable. And it had to be, for the WLA saw service from Normandy to China. And in one of the most memorable moments of our time, it was the WLAs that were first on the scene at the end of the war when Germany surrendered and the POWs were liberated. Indeed, the Harley-Davidson® WLA Military Motorcycle was truly one of the technological heroes of World War II.

Cycle History

This 1942 Harley-Davidson ® WLA, US Army Motorcycle was rebuilt and restored by the EWM restoration crew. As was common with many of the military motorcycles after World War II, this one was sold for civilian use. It´s first private owner lived in Poland. After some initial customizing, it was purchased by a British gentleman who painted and chromed it to his liking. When he was through with it, it was shipped to Los Angeles where it was purchased by John Russell. Museum member David Barnick, a friend of Mr. Russell, convinced him to put the WLA on a long term loan to the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles. Included with the loan was a donation of $3,000 to purchase new parts, paint and original accessories.

The EWM restoration crew put in the time and effort needed to bring it back to the original Harley-Davidson® military configuration, including the Thompson .45 caliber sub machine gun, a frequent companion of military motorcycle riders.